The Tommy





John Masefield, the English writer, says, St. George did not go out

against the dragon like that divine calm youth in Carpaccio's picture,

nor like that divine calm man in Donatello's statue. He went out, I

think, after some taste of defeat knowing that it was going to be bad,

and that the dragon would breathe fire, and that very likely his spear

would break, and that he wouldn't see his children again, and people

would call him a fool. He went out, I think, as the battalions of our

men went out, a little trembling and a little sick and not knowing much

about it, except that it had to be done, and then stood up to the

dragon in the mud of that far land and waited for him to come on.



[Illustration: Saint George and the Dragon, painted by V. Carpaccio in

1516, Venice; S. Giorgio Maggiore. The background, as in most medieval

paintings, gives scenes that explain further the legend depicted.]



But as soon as the British Tommy had reached the dragon's lair, he

became the British player in a great championship game of the nations.

He was the British sportsman, hunting big game; for in matters of life

or death, he is always the player or the sportsman. That it was a

hideous dragon breathing out poison gas and fire and destroying

Christian maidens, made the sport all the more interesting and worth

while. Philip Gibbs says of the English Tommy:--



They take great risks sometimes as a kind of sport, as Arctic

explorers or big game hunters will face danger and endure great bodily

suffering for their own sake. Those men are natural soldiers. There

are some even who like war, though very few. But most of them would

jeer at any kind of pity for them, because they do not pity themselves,

except in most dreadful moments which they put away from their minds if

they escape. They scorn pity, yet they hate worse still, with a most

deadly hatred, all the talk about 'our cheerful men.' For they know

that, however cheerful they may be, it is not because of a jolly life

or lack of fear. They loathe shell-fire and machine-gun fire. They

know what it is 'to have the wind up.' They have seen what a

battlefield looks like before it has been cleared of its dead. It is

not for non-combatants to call them 'cheerful'; because non-combatants

do not understand and never will, not from now until the ending of the

world. 'Not so much of your cheerfulness,' they say, and 'Cut it out

about the brave boys in the trenches.' So it is difficult to describe

them, or to give any idea of what goes on in their minds, for they

belong to another world than the world of peace that we knew, and there

is no code which can decipher their secret, nor any means of

self-expression on their lips.



The Tommy dislikes to show emotion or to brag or to be praised when he

is present. To outsiders and to soldiers of other nations sent to help

him, he likes to make the duties and the dangers seem as disagreeable,

as horrible, and as inevitable as he possibly can, but when he has

discharged a particularly tiresome and obnoxious duty himself or has

met without flinching a terrible danger, he declares his act was

nothing.



The poilu and the Tommy are vastly different. The Frenchman works

himself up into a fanatical state of enthusiasm, and in a wild burst of

excitement dashes into the fray. The Englishman finishes his

cigarette, exchanges a joke with his 'bunkie' and coolly goes 'over the

top.' Both are wonderful fighters with the profoundest admiration for

each other.



The Tommy wants his tea and the officers like to carry their canes and

swagger sticks with them over the top into battle. A brave,

unpretending man, who likes his own ways and wishes to be allowed to

follow them and who is willing to fight and die that others also may be

free--such is the English Tommy. With him it is all a part of the

game, the game of war, and the greatest game of all, the game of life.

He must play his part and play it well.





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